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The Torch Has Been Passed: Kylesa Live at Milwaukee’s Cactus Club

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The torch has been passed – Kylesa is now the greatest rock and roll band in the United States. They proved this at Milwaukee’s Cactus Club about a year ago, on Tuesday, October 22, 2013.

Hear me out.

Kylesa’s brethren in musical experimentation and consistency, Sonic Youth, never made a bad record, from their first studio album, Confusion Is Sex, in 1983, to The Eternal, their final record, in 2009. The quality was there on each release, in the attempt to create new sounds, press them on vinyl, and occasionally reach such great heights as 1988’s double-album masterpiece Daydream Nation.

Now Sonic Youth has splintered into three versions of its former self: guitarist-singer Lee Ranaldo’s Lee Ranaldo and The Dust (which features Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley), bassist-singer Kim Gordon’s Body/Head, and guitarist-singer Thurston Moore’s Chelsea Light Moving.

But the torch has been passed, and a united Kylesa is carrying it, lighting the way with their dedication to making each release – and this holds true for all their records, from 2002’s Kylesa to this year’s album-of-the-year candidate Ultraviolet – an adventure into never-before-dreamed sonic realms.

Kylesa isn’t a splinter but a complete piece of wood – and complete pieces of wood are necessary to construct musical structures that can bear the weight of experimentation and memorable hooks.

When you think “Kylesa,” you shouldn’t just think of Sonic Youth. You should also think “Beatles,” “Zeppelin,” “Slayer,” “Pink Floyd,” and any other band you’ve loved that have created unforgettable and unexpected tunes that stay in your mind and consciousness long after you’ve turned off your turntable. The songs that Kylesa’s major players – guitarist-singer Phillip Cope, guitarist-singer Laura Pleasants, and drummer Carl McGinley – write are that strong, that affecting.


At Milwaukee’s Cactus Club, the inventive powers of Kylesa were on full display. Cope’s intense singing and Theremin and guitar playing made each song – songs like “Hollow Severer” – sound even more inventive in their live incarnation. And McGinley’s and Eric Hernandez’ dual drum attack was dexterous and primal at the same time.

When you add Laura Pleasants’ at-times melodic, at-times brutal voice and guitar to the mix, the result is classic Kylesa tunes such as “To Forget.” To use a Sonic Youth song title, Pleasants has the “Star Power” that made her the visual center of attention at the Cactus.


The fact that Pleasants is one of the most versatile guitar players on the planet also helps. She, Cope, bassist Chase Rudeseal, and the drummers move the band from intense metal to atmospheric psychedelia to punk-y noise rock so deftly – and sometimes all in the same song – that they educate you about the history of rock and roll just as much as they blow you away with the sheer power of their music.

All of this was on full display at the Cactus – and I hope you have a chance to catch America’s greatest band as they wind down their tour.

Now I have the pleasure of introducing you to one of the bands that opened for Kylesa. Hailing from Canada, Sierra is on the brink of stardom. You can feel it when you listen to their Cope-produced first LP, Pslip, which came out this summer.

But before I write more about this incredible power trio, I want you to visit to listen to Pslip. The record’s so good that it’s worthy of your immediate attention.

But first, a Sierra primer: the band consists of guitarist-singer Jason Taylor, bassist Robbie Carvalho, and drummer Ky Anto. The guys sound like a mixture of Rush and Nirvana; each member excels on their instrument, and the songs from their debut that they performed at the Cactus, sounded like they could have come from Fly By Night or Bleach.

Do you realize how exciting this is? Taylor, as he demonstrated at the Cactus, is quickly becoming this generation’s Kurt Cobain. He hammers out heavy riffs with a passionate virtuosity that inspires. Standing tall in front of his amp at the Cactus, he energized tracks like “Control Folly” and “Little Smoke” with his jaw-dropping guitar work.


But that’s not all. The man can sing. His voice is so strong and melodic that it can’t help but invigorate. It especially shone on set-closer “Pseptember.”

Carvalho helps matters out with his melodic approach to bass, which gives Sierra’s tunes an edge over other heavy bands. He cites Geddy Lee as an influence, and to watch him play at the Cactus was like watching a wizard in action. He somehow managed to play high melodic lines that served as counterpoints to Taylor’s low-end vocals and noisy riffing. These lines merged with Anto’s powerful drumming to create an amazingly powerful and catchy sound.

Rush and Nirvana, indeed, do come to mind. But Taylor, Carvalho, and Anto have created a distinct sound that’s all their own.

Do yourself a favor and see Kylesa and Sierra while you can. Both bands fuel your imagination, make you dream big, and make you fall in love with rock and roll all over again.